Although more branded vegetable oils are daily making their way into the market, unbranded types appear to be the favourite among Nigerians, especially those in the lower rung of the economy, maybe because they are cheaper.
In an exclusive interview Dominica Okpara of Guardian, Mrs. Edna Chukwu, a dietician and nutritionist at the National Orthopaedic Hospital, Enugu shed some light on unbranded vegetable oils and why they could be harmful.
What is the process of producing vegetable oil?
VEGETABLE oils are simply vegetable fat that are liquid in room temperature. In their production, the oils are got through mechanical extraction, where the selected seeds are crushed or pressed thoroughly to extract the oil. The extracted oil is then purified by heating to almost smoke point, and water is added.
The water is immediately converted to steam, which bubbles through the oil, carrying with it any chemical that is water-soluble.
The steam removes impurities that can impart unwanted flavours and odours. It is a delicate process, even for those with the right machinery, because one has to not only make sure that all the nutrients are present in their appropriate proportion, but that the oil is processed and packaged in a healthy way.
When is a particular vegetable oil referred to as unbranded?
When you say oil is unbranded, it means you do not know the source. It has no National Agency for Food and Drug Administration and Control (NAFDAC) registration number, and you are in the dark about the kind of process it has undergone before it got to you. It may have been scooped from a gully or somewhere worse, and so, you are also unaware whether it is good enough for your consumption, and you can also be at risk of whatever implications may arise from its use.
What are the health implications of using unbranded vegetable oil?
Most of these oils are often adulterated and they congeal physically. That’s why sometimes you see that when you use unbranded oil to prepare your food and that food gets cold, it coagulates.
Even inside the body, these oils congeal, which can lead to the blockage of blood vessels and arteries that supply blood to the heart, causing heart failure, cardiac arrest, hypertension and many other heart related diseases. It can even go on to affect the arteries in the brain and cause stroke.
Also, the cholesterol and fat content in unbranded oils are abnormally high and can affect one’s medical health badly. These oils promote obesity, heartburns and many others. There is also proof of addition of chemicals to lengthen the shelf life in unbranded oils and these chemicals are hazardous to health.
The normal process for extraction of oil from the seeds is by crushing, but some of these local producers make use of chemicals for faster and easier extraction. Upon intake, these chemicals are harmful and can go on to cause cancer.
The environment that some of these local vegetable oil makers stay to produce is always not really conducive and you cannot ascertain the hygienic level of the machine they use to extract these oils.
Unhealthy packaging is another issue. They make use of rubber containers to store the oil, and just how clean are these containers?
A used Coca Cola bottle can contain over five million germs sticking to the bottleneck alone, and another 15 million or more at the bottom.
Even thorough washing with hot water will only kill a third of these germs, leaving the rest to dissolve into the oil.
So, we are indirectly consuming more germs than nutrients. A buyer of unbranded oil cannot even trace where that oil is being produced and so, it’s a risk to all those that use it.
So, what is your advice to people still using unbranded vegetable oils?
Of course, things are expensive now and cooking oil is one of them. Presently, cooking oil is more expensive than it was four years ago, but quality and healthy choice should supersede all constraints.
So, I advise people to go for NAFDAC registered, heart-safe, branded cooking oils and reduce the rate of oil causing medical issues in our society. But thankfully now, even with little money, you can access a decent quantity of branded vegetable oil in the market, as small sachets of oil are now at our disposal at affordable prices.
And what do you say to the government?
NAFDAC has its work cut out. There should be proper monitoring of the kind of vegetable oils that get into the market, and people should be educated on the dangers of unbranded oils, as well as encouraged to go for quality oils. Also, branded oils should be made to suit the finances of both the high and low in the society.